When I first heard that Bellator MMA was thinking about promoting some crazy, borderline unsanctionable boxing match between former UFC champion Quinton Jackson and boxing legend Roy Jones Jr., I didn’t get it.
Except for those people who are dying to find out just how much leather “Rampage” can eat in one sitting, I wondered, who wants to see that? Better yet, who at Bellator could possibly think that sounds like a good idea?
Then I watched Wednesday night’s Bellator 97 broadcast on Spike TV, where Jackson (32-11 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) announced that, instead of RJJ, he’d be facing Tito Ortiz (16-11-1 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) in Bellator’s first ever pay-per-view event. Suddenly it all made sense. The Jackson-Jones talk? That was just a feint designed to bring our guard down. It worked, too. We spent so much time shaking our heads at that truly terrible idea that we never saw this merely very bad one coming.
On Wednesday it caught us flush, like a left hook to the jaw. I’m still reeling, and not in a good way.
I almost feel like we should have seen it coming. The fact that we didn’t, that so few of us did the math on Jackson’s addition to the Bellator roster and Ortiz’s hints at a possible comeback and came up with “Rampage vs. Tito” live on pay-per-view (!!!), well, that probably tells us something. It tells us that this isn’t a fight anyone even considered, probably because no one really wants to see it.
Jackson and Ortiz? They both had their time in this sport. They were great once, and their periods of greatness even had some overlap. One thing both men have in common now, however, is that they’re both has-beens from another era who would need a DeLorean with a flux capacitor just to remember what it felt like to be on top.
How can you tell this is a completely unnecessary, nonsensical fight? Think back to Ortiz’s “retirement” after his loss to Forrest Griffin at UFC 148 in 2012. As he walked out of the cage for what we assumed and/or hoped would be the last time, did you hear anyone lamenting the fact that the Ortiz-Jackson fight never materialized? I’m going to guess no. No, you did not, because that fight wasn’t on anyone’s radar. No one cared to see it then, back when they were both still active fighters on the UFC roster. So what makes Bellator think we’ll pay to see it now?
That’s the really baffling part for me. This is Bellator, after all. This is the organization that told us it doesn’t want the UFC’s leftovers. These are the people who are all about the tournament structure, building stars from the ground up, letting fighters control their own destinies. And, as we saw with another brilliant performance from lightweight champ Michael Chandler last night, that’s actually working. The tournament system really does polish some diamonds in the rough from time to time.
But instead of spending its money on signing top 10 opponents for homegrown champs like Chandler to face, Bellator would instead prefer to throw cash at two aging fighters who are a combined 0-6 in their past six fights. And, as if that’s not insane enough, they expect fans to pay for the privilege of finding out which of these guys has less gas left in the tank on Nov. 2 at Bellator 106. It hardly even matters who wins this fight. It’s just a question of who will lose and whether he’ll have the good sense to retire and stay that way once it’s over.
The worst part is, I feel like the MMA world needs Bellator. A little competition between fight promotions gives fighters options and pushes everyone to do better. But when Bellator abandons its own vision in order to do exactly the kind of fight it said it wasn’t interested in, it makes itself seem less like a unique product in the MMA space and more like just another off-brand competitor, hoping we won’t notice that the goods it’s peddling are far past their expiration date.
We’ve seen how that ends. We’ve also seen how it begins, usually with grand, delusional promises that have no hope of coming true. Promises that, if we’re being honest, sound a lot like the one Jackson made on last night’s broadcast when he said his bout with Ortiz would be “one of the best fights in history.”
Funny, since that seems like exactly where this fight belongs – a ways back in MMA’s history, but definitely not its future.
For more on “Bellator 106: Rampage vs. Tito,” stay tuned to the MMA Rumors section of the site.
(Pictured: Tito Ortiz)